One of the things I loved the most about Tube Riders was the world building. You created a spectacular Britain — Mega Britain— what was one of the best apocalyptic settings I’ve come across. Where did the idea for this Mega Britain come from?
I grew up in Cornwall, spent six years living in Bristol, and took frequent trips to London, so most of the basics were from personal experience. I had a background, which I then adapted for the needs of the story. Things like adjusting the size/shape of the Underground stations so that the Tube Riders wouldn’t get crushed by the tunnel walls. It’s a story after all. One thing I was very clear about was trying to give stuff “normal” names. I hate the way books give stupid names to stuff, which is why mine are very simple – things like clawboards, huntsmen, the Department of Civil Affairs, they’re all very easily understandable words. Mega Britain was the same. I wanted to give it a name that sounded kind of video-game cool, but still something recognizable, rather than Blah-blah-land, and the “Mega”, just popped into my head and stuck.
As for the general layout, I’m very interested in issues of segregation, which has been a massive theme through history in all walks of life. The most important thing is that pretty much in every case, the segregators did what they did because they thought it was the right thing to do, even if from the outside it was ridiculous. The Governor genuinely believes that putting fences around everything will actually make people work harder, and sticks by his ideal even as things start to unravel. And in any case, the idea of the walled city is an old one; it’s been around forever. My cities are just a lot bigger.
Were there any images you used as inspiration for this broken country?
Not really. The London GUA I see in my head is just a wasted version of the real London, with this massive crooked wall around the outside (you get a close up of the wall in Revenge), while the Greater Forest Areas are just the countryside I stared at from the train on the many trips I’ve taken between Exeter, Bristol and London. With less roads, of course.
The fact that things were almost normal (emphasis on almost) in the more pastoral settings of England was fascinating. Why were things so awful for urban London, esp in comparison to pastoral England?
It comes down to issues of population and control. It proved far easier for the Governor to keep people productive and happy in the less densely populated Greater Forest Areas than in the cities, where the population size created a growing unrest. I think early on the cities would have been policed a lot better with a lot more brutality, but as resources got stretched it began to break down. We enter the story at a point where the chaos has reached fever pitch. However, one of the things worth remembering is that the people aren’t united against the government but are mostly fighting each other. This ingrained distrust is something that scarily mirrors what I’ve read about the work camps in North Korea, where people are apparently taught from an early age to distrust everyone, including their own families. It makes uniting for a common cause very difficult.
Tube Riding is a form of surfing on the side of moving subway cars. Such a fantastic idea, and you created wonderful imagery around it, not to mention a fantastic group of teens/young adults who found camaraderie doing it. What inspired that idea?
I don’t remember now to be honest, but I wrote the original short story in 2002, although that ends with the Tube Riders disappearing into the unknown of the tunnel (it’s available in the Trilogy Boxed Set or my shorts collection, Ms Ito’s Bird & Other Stories). I’m pretty sure I was in a train station and was drinking a beer and wondered what it would be like to hang off the side of a moving train and then jump off at the end of the platform. It all built up from there. In early drafts I had some trouble differentiating the characters – for example Paul and Simon and Jess and Marta were really similar. I don’t like to use the same character twice. I call it Steve Syndrome, after the first character I had who was a featureless cardboard cutout. I do my best to avoid it now, cutting any characters who don’t have a decent role to play.
One of the main antagonists in this Tube Riders was unlike any that I have read. It wasn’t so clear cut/black and white with her. She was carrying out orders, but she was also questioning them, and her evolution as a character was really compelling (and continues to be in Exile). Was there anything in particular you were exploring with her character? Did you set out to write her this way, or did she evolve?
My characters are always various shades of grey (let me know what you think about Switch at the end of Exile, haha), which is one reason I’ve got a prequel on the backburner where the Governor is essentially the good guy (at the start, at least), and Dreggo is an example of that. She’s bad, then good, then bad, then good, to the point where she doesn’t really know what’s going on. As a writer I consider myself a puppet master, and with Dreggo (as with many of the other characters) I set out to see just what she could handle. I wanted to basically destroy her and then bring her back, but I was never quite sure how. For the whole series I pretty much only knew about four or five chapters ahead what would happen, so it wasn’t really plotted. I had an idea of where I wanted it to go, but it evolved as well as it went. I did feel that the eventual conclusion of Dreggo’s storyline was perfect though. I’m pretty proud of that.
While I loved all of the characters, Dreggo and Marta are my favorites. They were wonderfully drawn, strong women. Was it your intent to write two extraordinary female characters?
I didn’t really set out with any plans for how to portray either of them. They certainly weren’t damsels in distress (Jess was the closest to that, and she wasn’t really very close), but I didn’t want to make them asexual hardasses either. Tube Riders is supposed to go almost beyond fiction into alternative reality, and in reality you’re hardly likely to care which boy has the cutest smile when you’ve got some killing machine on your tail, but you still might get urges from time to time, which is the part I played up to. They’re also very influenced by real British women – who are in general pretty much zero-BS in my experience – than airy fairy comic book heroines. The closeness to realism is what has actually turned some readers off, but for me that’s the most important thing about the series. I wanted people to read it and think, “I’ve met a girl like that.”
What are you working on now? Any target release date for it?
Tons of stuff. Seriously, it’s insane how much I have queued. I have four novels done or almost done. One is a trunk novel comedy which may come out sometime when I’ve figured out how to stop it offending people, haha. Another is a love story that I knocked out in a little over a month earlier this year. That should be ready to go soon. The other two are the first two parts in a new series called Tales of Crow. Part One, They Came OutAfter Dark, was released on August 20th. The central character is this deformed madman who has insane skills with biotechnology. What began as a kind of horror/thriller with a dash of black humour is morphing into something quite different. I’m even considering tying it loosely in with the Tube Riders series, kind of like the origin story of a character who ended up doing something important in the Tube Riders world (I won’t say what). Because I’m an indie I can do what I want, but it’s the kind of thing that a publisher would hate. The tone of the books is very different, but I’ve always been one to push the boundaries. The second book is finished and will be out around October. I’ll probably drop one of the other two in between, but I don’t expect there to be much fuss about those. They’re more for me that for readers.
And of course there’s the prequel series, Rise of the Governor. I’m currently taking a “break” from it because I needed some time away from that world, but I’ll be back on it soon. Some books write themselves on the screen, others in my mind, and this one is definitely the latter. Once I’ve ironed out the details in my mind, I’ll get it down, but to be honest, after writing Exile and Revenge over the space of 18 months, I was pretty burned out.
What inspires you to write?
No idea. I just need to tell stories, and once I’ve started to tell one I need to get to the end as quickly as possible. It was never about money, although if I make some it’s nice. That’s one reason why I tend to genre hop – I’m not focused on what I should be doing to maximize my business potential, which is basically write the same book over and over again. To be honest, though, I don’t care.
What 5 books are on your bookshelf right now?
The five most recent books I’ve read/am currently reading are The Winter of Frankie Machine by Don Winslow, The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz, Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, Cycling Home from Siberia by Rob Lilwall, and Slash: The Autobiography. None are anything like what I write about, and that’s the way I like it. I only read about a book per month, so I’m very picky about what I read, and I have zero patience for generic genre fiction, particularly anything aimed at young adults or where the relationship/love triangle is more important than the story. I read almost as much non-fiction as I do fiction, but I read as much to learn these days as I do for entertainment. In my teens I devoured all the fantasy, horror, and sci-fi I could get my hands on, but I just don’t have a lot of time these days, so I want to read stuff that I find really, really interesting. I do read a lot of samples though – the beauty of the Kindle – but probably only go on to buy about one in twenty.
What do you recommend to see/read/hear?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It’s the only film I’ve watched in the last two months and it was awesome. As someone with a constant travel bug (I live in Japan, having lived in the UK, Spain, and Italy), it really made me want to get on the road. It also tells you a lot about how to live your life.